As North Korea escalates threats, media speculates ad infinitum

Published: Thursday, April 4 2013 9:59 a.m. MDT

In this Sunday, April 15, 2012 file photo, a North Korean vehicle carrying a missile passes by during a mass military parade in Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung.

David Guttenfelder, Associated Press

Major media outlets are speculating North Korea and its inexperienced leader, Kim Jong Un, may be headed for a run-in with China.

Or a new PR strategy.

Or a major miscalculation with tragic consequences.

(To review: North Korea announced Tuesday it would restart dormant nuclear facilities; the U.S. responded Wednesday by announcing it would deploy missile defense systems to Guam to insulate American allies in the Pacific Rim; and Thursday, North Korea released a statement revealing its military is preauthorized to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the U.S. military.)

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum published an op-ed piece late Wednesday with the headline “China must act on North Korea if it wants respect.”

“The Chinese could begin to play a valuable and prominent international role right now, one that would win their government friends and admirers and might even, over time, reduce the U.S. military presence in North Asia by eliminating one of the region’s most serious potential conflicts,” Applebaum wrote. “Starting today, the Chinese could put an end to the grotesque farce that is the North Korean regime and, together with the United States, usher in the reunification of the Korean peninsula.”

New Yorker writer Evan Osnos speculated Wednesday it could be time for North Korea to abandon an antiquated approach to international relations: “One of the world’s greatest pitchers of propaganda is losing its fastball. For decades, members of the Communist bloc relied on the Soviet approach to fulmination, projecting bulging-vein threats to ensure that its enemies pay attention. … But over time, North Korea’s fellow nations saw the need to adapt their mode of communication abroad and at home. In China, the uprising at Tiananmen Square convinced some members of the Party that the old method of indoctrinating people — which relied on the kind of threats and denunciations we hear from North Korea today — was no longer working in the modern age.”

Earlier in the day Wednesday, on NPR’s “Morning Edition” radio program, reporter Louisa Kim called Kim Jong Un “young, relatively new … and inexperienced at brinksmanship.” Riffing off his colleague’s observations, NPR writer Mark Memmott asserted, “There is a case to be made that while North Korea's rhetoric and some of its actions are familiar, the chances of a misstep are higher.”

Indeed, when the Wall Street Journal interviewed Kurt Campbell on Wednesday, Campbell drew upon his experience as the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs to lament the possibility North Korea may be making grave miscalculations.

“The danger, (Campbell) said, is that the Korean peninsula is so heavily militarized that ‘one miscalculation could lead to a tragedy,’ and that South Korea is less willing than before to simply accept North Korean provocations without reacting.”

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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